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Sermon Illustrations for Epiphany 2 | OT 2 (2019)

Illustration
Isaiah 62:1-5
We like good “turn around” stories. Ulysses S. Grant is a hero of the Civil War and the 18th President of the United States. By all accounts, he could be called successful. It wasn’t always that way for him, though. Grant's life played out as a true Horatio Alger story. He had a humble background as the son of a tanner in Ohio. Grant was not a standout in his youth. Shy and reserved, he took after his mother rather than his outgoing father. At seventeen, he enrolled at West Point and graduated twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. He served his country in the Mexican-American War and after that war he resigned his Army commission and moved to St. Louis. There he failed at several business activities. He was headed toward becoming a derelict, when he relocated to Galena, Illinois. Although a fine horseman, ambitious and not lacking in self-confidence, Grant found no challenges that interested him and engaged his talents.

His breakthrough came in 1861 when the Southern states seceded. The looming hostilities captivated him but getting back into the Army was difficult. After drilling new recruits and jousting with Henry Halleck, his superior, Grant finally obtained a command.  His work on the battlefield was exemplary. Confederate General James Longstreet once said of Grant, “Do you know Grant? Well, I do. I was in the Corps of Cadets with him at West Point for three years. I was present at his wedding. I served in the same army with him in Mexico. I have observed his methods of warfare in the West, and I believe I know him through and through and I tell you that we cannot afford to underrate him and the army he now commands."

Grant went from being a nobody to becoming the hero of the Civil War. Turn around stories like that always inspire and motivate us. Our text today speaks of a “turn around” story. Because of her sin, Zion has been forsaken and outcast. That, however, will not last forever. The prophet looks ahead to the day when she is called “Delight.”  It will be an incredible “turn around.”  God’s turn around stories always are.
Bill T.

* * *

Isaiah 62:1-5
Names matter. Changing names matter when it comes to changing perception, the perception from those outside or our self perception. Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC perhaps because research showed initials were cooler than a long name, but probably more to the point because the word “Fried” had become toxic to people who pretended they wanted to eat more healthy, yet who really wanted to eat fried chicken as long as it wasn’t called by that name. IHOP, the International House of Pancake, had a recent promotion announcing the change of their name to iHob, because they wanted to emphasize the fact they served burgers to a group of younger consumers who might have seen a pancake house as something that old people go to.

Names matter, and changing names matters in the Hebrew bible and that is why in this scripture God’s people are given a new name as well.
Frank R.

* * *

Isiah 62:1-5
There is a new social enemy, and like Isaiah we “will not rest” until it is defeated. We now have “tech addicts.” These are individuals who have become addicted to their social media devices to the point that it disrupts all other aspects of their lives. This summer the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its lists of addictive behaviors. This addiction affects those who are addicted to video games. The WHO is now considering “tech addicts.” There are now 12-step meetings for individuals who are “tech addicts.” Cosette Rae, the director of reStart Life, said, “The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe.”
Ron L.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
What are your gifts and talents? Now, don’t say you have none for God has given us, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, gifts and talents to share. I have a few gifts — I can write well (at least I hope you all think so). I have a good singing voice (less strong than in my youth, but still a gift). I have an enthusiastic faith. I also think I have leadership skills, integrity and compassion (at least my last evaluation says so). I could claim some additional gifts, but what would be the point? We all have gifts. It is not bragging to acknowledge and utilize our gifts for the kin-dom of God. Many of the gifts I have require some practice for their implementation. That’s my part. The giving of the gifts; that’s Gods part. Paul reminds us that we do not have to have the same gifts as others; that our unique gifts are enough to have and to share. How are you sharing your gifts with the world?
Bonnie B.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Martin Luther once colorfully described our chronic vulnerability and weakness:

Wherever the Word of God has a foothold, there the devil will be. By the agency of his factions he will always build his tavern and kitchens beside God’s house. (Complete Sermons, vol.4/2, p.198)

Flesh and blood are too weak to obtain this glorious confidence [that we are servants of Christ]: the Holy Spirit is essential. (Complete Sermons, Vol.4/2, p.210)

John Calvin echoes then that we badly need the Holy Spirit:

Hence it is necessary that we should be directed by the Spirit of God, or we shall wander on for ever. From this too, it follows, that all things that pertain to the true knowledge of God, are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XX/1, p.397)

The Reformed tradition’s Heidelberg Catechism beautifully describes the work of the Holy Spirit in the context of commenting on our only comfort in life and death:

... that I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior... that He protects me so well that without the Will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready.    
Mark E.

* * *

John 2:1-11
I was born with Asperger syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Though, in the 1950s, no such illness was known; thus, there was no treatment. Being severely bullied is one of the side effects of Asperger’s. In seventh grade the bullying became so unbearable that I snuck out of Sunday evening youth fellowship and went up into the sanctuary to pray. I actually knelt at the altar rail. Behind the altar was a beautiful stained-glass window. It had Christ in the center with outstretched hands, palms forward. Surrounding him was everything in the city of Lorain, Ohio, that was of significance to the community: the U.S Steel mill, the Ford Motor plant, the ship yard, the schools, city hall to name a few. It was there, at that altar, I bled my soul before Jesus to stop the brutality when I returned to Longfellow Junior High School the next day. Monday was a day of peace. Not just Monday, but a number of weeks that followed. Even though that was over fifty years ago, I still feel the warm glow of a gracious Jesus who received my prayer.

This for me was of the “first of his signs.”
Ron L.

* * *

John 2:1-11
Any good minister preparing a couple for a wedding will usually remind them that no matter how well they plan things, or how perfect they imagine things will be something will probably go wrong. You don’t plan it. You don’t want it. Yet the imperfection becomes part of the lore of that wedding.

Indeed, the quest for perfection invites disaster. Minister and storyteller Robert Fulghum (Of All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame) tells the story of the most disastrous wedding he over officiated. The bride’s mother drove everyone ragged in her quest for perfection, but it all went for naught when the bride ate a few chocolates on the day of the wedding that were transformed on her walk down the aisle into the most spectacular projectile vomiting ever recorded on tape! Everything, including her mother’s clothes, were ruined. Grace entered in after everything was cleaned up and the wedding was performed with everyone in jeans and t-shirts. And that tape of the disaster was shown to the family every year on the couple’s anniversary. No one laughed louder than the bride’s mother.

The impending disaster of running out of wine at the wedding feast at Cana also opened up the opportunity for grace to enter in, with the mother of Jesus forcing his hand just a little bit and causing him to begin his public ministry earlier — and more abundantly perhaps — than he had planned.

(You can find this story in the book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It by Robert Fulghum.)
Frank R.

* * *

John 2:1-11
Have you ever felt out of place and that all eyes are looking at you? Have you ever done or said something that you know, right away, was the wrong thing to say or do? Though we try to avoid them, those awkward moments happen. I share this story in Surrounded by Grace (CSS Publishing, 2018).

The scholarship tea was to be held at the alumni association’s ballroom and I was thrilled to get an invitation. I’d been chosen to receive a scholarship. It wasn’t a large one, but it was a scholarship nonetheless. I was excited and happy to go. I had not been to very many fancy engagements and I’d never been to the alumni association building for any reason at all. I wasn’t sure how to dress for such an event. I knew it required more than jeans and a t-shirt. I’d been to a few other awards events and knew that the dress was business casual. So, I put on slacks, a collared shirt and a sweater and went. I realized not long after I’d arrived that I’d made a mistake. Nearly everyone was in a suit and tie. No one said anything, and I still got the award, but I remember how I felt.

A young couple in Cana might have understood that feeling. As chapter two of John opens, Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding. Jesus’ mother is also at this wedding. Weddings in Jesus’ day were a bit different than in twenty-first century America. A wedding at this time was a gala occasion that could last a week. Refreshments were provided by the couple for all the guests, and of these refreshments, wine was important. To fail in providing adequately for guests at a wedding was a huge social disgrace. It may never be forgotten. As we read in verse three, a problem arises to mar this happy occasion. They are out of wine. To our twenty-first century minds, this seems like an inconvenience, but not a mortifying situation. To this couple, though, it was tragic. Jesus’ mother is aware of the predicament and is direct in her words to him. “They have no wine.” That’s it. Pretty straight-forward and clear. She knows what it means, and Jesus is aware of the connotations, too, and acts. His first miracle is at this wedding. Why did he do it? John tells us he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. That’s important. I think there may be another reason, too. It may be because he cared about a nameless couple he knew whose wedding he’d been asked to attend. They were in an awkward spot and Jesus helped them out. Jesus is there for our awkward moments.
Bill T.
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